cant_talk1615Among those who contributed suggestions at a ‘Better Engagement, Better Outcomes’ forum at the Kilcunda Community Hall last Tuesday, with left, Bass Coast Mayor Cr Kimberley Brown, were from left, Inverloch Tourism Association President Dom Brusamarello, 2014 Citizen of the Year Barb Oates representing the Corinella community and Nathan Lowenstein, a member of the shire’s access and inclusion advisory committee.

IF YOU have offices at 100 Collins Street, Melbourne, and you list some of the world’s top companies, including Google and Facebook, among your clientele, you’re unlikely to be working for peanuts.
And that’s certainly the case with the consultancy firm, CPR, which the Bass Coast Shire Council has engaged at a cost of $30,000 to review its ‘Communications and Engagement’ strategy.
In fact, it’s probably a fair indication of how bad the shire’s hierarchy feels its relationship is with the local community that it would appoint one of the top issues management, communications and public policy firms in Australia to get them out of the poop.
And last Tuesday night, at the first public foray into the development of the new strategy, the shire had the services of no less than the firm’s managing director, Michelle Edmonds, to lead the discussion.
It’s clear, though, that it has serious problems in the area of engagement with the local community.
The Cowes car ferry fiasco, the dogs on beaches debacle, the Cape Paterson, Inverloch and Sunset Strip special charge scheme screw-ups, the Rural Land Use wreck, the sinking feeling over the inundation overlay and the cries over milk feedlot plans at Kernot…
They’ve all been damaging PR disasters for the shire.
In the 2014 Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey, the council scored very poorly in the areas of ‘consultation’ and ‘advocacy’ with the independent report prepared for the State Government by JWS Research specifically noting a harsh backlash from Phillip Island.
“Council scores similarly on the key service areas of consultation (49) and advocacy (48). Both of these scores are significantly below the state-wide and Large Rural Shires averages for these measures. On advocacy, Phillip Island residents are significantly lower than other demographic and geographic groups in Bass Coast,” the JWS report said among its key findings at the time.
In fact, only 17 per cent of Phillip Island residents thought the shire was doing either a good or very good job with communication and engagement.
Residents across the whole shire aged 35-49 years and 50-64 years were especially scathing in their assessment of the shire’s performance.
In the response to service areas, the community rated none of Bass Coast’s services as being better than the state-wide average and rated all of the following services below average: Consultation and engagement, lobbying, informing the community, local streets and footpaths, traffic management, parking facilities, enforcement of local laws, elderly support services, recreational facilities, appearance of public areas, waste management, population growth, community decisions and sealed roads.
Shire officials have indicated that they feel much of this negative sentiment is a problem of perception rather than substance but those in Wonthaggi waiting for adequate basketball and aquatic centre facilities and those on Phillip Island wanting a tip and a heated pool would beg to differ.
The fear is that service standards will get worse, not better, if the State Government insists on CPI rises in rates and the shire continues to resist fundamental reform.
Issues raised
There was only an hour and a half provided at last week’s forum to discuss the shire’s horrendous communication and engagement problem but the stakeholders invited to night at least tried to make a start.
They highlighted occasions when the shire council had either failed to consult, had staged rushed consultation or consulted and then completely rejected community concerns. And they urged the consultants to make their own assessment of the shire’s communications efforts.
Inverloch Tourism Association President Dom Brusamarello said the community would have liked some input into the brief given to the consultants, noting the short-comings of the dogs on beaches consultation and highlighting concerns that the proposed Surf Parade footpath project appeared to be going the same way.
The consultants set out their plans for community engagement review.
All members of the community are invited to share their views about how Council communicates, what could be improved and what works well.
You can have your say online or attend one of the open community forums at:
• Inverloch – Tuesday, April 28 from 10am to 12.30pm at the Inverloch Hub, 16 A’Beckett Street
• Wonthaggi – Thursday, April 30 from 3pm to 5.30pm at Wonthaggi Plaza Shopping Centre
• Cowes – Saturday, May 2 from 10am to 12.30pm at Cowes Shopping Centre (in front of Woolworths) 117-133 Thompson Avenue